After moving from the farm, the family lived in a succession of rented houses Grandpa later pointed out as I rode with him around the northwestern quadrant of town. In these houses, Grandma was soon coping with three small children – Marion, my dad, born in 1922, Myrl Yvonne in 1924, and Donna June in 1927. One photo of the three kids gives the location as 421 Upland Avenue and has Dad in overalls and a fireman’s hat. Another, from Gettysburg Avenue, shows Myrl holding a doll nearly her own size, a scowling Donna gripping a teddy bear, and Dad in knickers and sneakers, deep in a book rather than acknowledging the camera.
The place I knew is the home they eventually owned at 39 McOwen Street, which was also the headquarters for his plumbing business. What catches me off-guard is that the actual purchase didn’t take place until June 20, 1940 – for $3,825. Up to this point, Grandpa had been, like his own father, landless; Joshua had set forth from the family’s small “plantation” in North Carolina, as all farms there were called, and become a sojourning tenant among the Hoosiers and Buckeyes. Now entering his own fifth decade, Grandpa could finally say he was sinking roots.
It was here that their fourth child, Thelma, quickly dubbed TJ by her siblings, was born. As we reexamine the time frame, she calculates, “so they had to have moved there before 1934. They converted the living room to the delivery room. Dad took your Dad, Myrl, and Donna to Uncle Arlie’s earlier that Sunday morning, so they were not present for this superhuman birth.”
Her cousin Wilma, in comparison, admits, “I don’t remember anything about the time when TJ was born.” From her perspective, maybe it was just another day of playing ball with her cousins Marion, Myrl, and Donna.
The McOwen Street house we remember is as least twice the size it was in fact. The frame structure was built in the late 1800s on a narrow lot, and had a railroad-car sequence of living room, dining room, kitchen, and, at the back, the office of James F. Hodson Plumbing & Heating. Its clapboards were narrow, painted a café au lait. An L-shaped porch wrapped around the front, allowing entry to the residence through the dining room, rather than the door to the living room. It helped that the dining room was essentially set sideways into the house, with a bay window on the side beside the entry, with the stairs to the second floor opposite. A natural-gas fireplace sat along the wall against the kitchen, though I never recall it actually working. (It probably would have been too hot for the room, anyway.) A separate entry at the end of a walkway beside the house led to the office. There was also a corridor from the kitchen to the office, as well as a doorway no longer in use.
Along an alley at the back of the lot was “the shop,” a small two-story carriage house filled with bins of plumbing supplies – the various joints and elbows, valves, caulking, solder and muriatic acid – as well as a much-used pipe cutter and threader on a stand. The structure had its own definitive smells: the mixture of oil and metal shavings, plus old warehouse dust, especially. In front of this but behind a trellis lay rows of cast-iron and lead pipes in many diameters. There was barely room at the side for the boarded gate to the alley, where Grandpa rented neighboring garages to securely park his trucks overnight. His own car was out on the street.
As kids, we would play on the pipes, of course, though there weren’t many fantasies we could construct from their utilitarian appearance. It was more like walking metal tight-rope.